Ruth’s Market is our next step in marketing. Watch of our opening in late spring. Our shop will be located at 28 Conococheague St. Williamsport, Maryland. We are around the corner from the C&O Canal National Park and Towpath and the Maryland Rail Trail. We will obviously feature Palmyra Farm Cheeses as well as custom cheese boards and all the essentials to build your own charcuterie. Local meats, fruits, vegetables and other goodies will be offered along with grab and go sandwiches. Stop in when you are in the area and enjoy our hospitality.
Master Breeder. Two words that immediately summon respect from any dairy cattle enthusiast around the globe. It speaks to a dedication to your breed as well as a long-term breeding philosophy that yields long-lasting success. All of that rings true for the 2022 recipient of the Robert ‘Whitey’ McKown Master Breeder Award, Palmyra Farm of Hagerstown, Maryland.
If you feel a Master Breeder should have bred national show winners, top production cows, or popular AI sires, Palmyra-bred cattle have ticked that box for the Ayrshire breed. Ralph Shank, Jr. and his sister, Mary Shank Creek, along with Ralph’s wife Terrie and Mary’s husband, Mike, oversee the herd and dairy operation, along with their children and grandchildren – the fourth and fifth generations on the western Maryland farm.
In the Ayrshire show ring, the Palmyra prefix is sprinkled throughout winning pedigrees. Their homebred beauty, Palmyra Berkely P Ruth-ET EX-94, achieved everything a cow can do in the ring – Grand Champion at World Dairy Expo in 2017 & 2018, and named unanimous All-American as a senior 3-year-old and 4-year-old in those respective years. During this time, she made a record over 32,000M 1256F & 960P and, impressively, was the #1 Elite Cow at the time. Nine of her closest fourteen ancestors at top and bottom of her pedigree are Palmyra-bred. Her daughter, Palmyra Predator B Ruthless EX-93, was the winning Junior 3-Year-Old, Intermediate and Reserve Grand Champion at the International Ayrshire Show in 2021.
Ruth was the culmination of a dedicated breeding philosophy. Mary Creek states it plainly, “Our goals have not really changed – we aim for high genetic value with All-American type and high production. Originally our Dad’s goals were simple. He wanted to have one of the largest Ayrshire herds in the country, and eventually he wanted to breed a number one genetic value bull and cow, and sell bulls to AI. As we started to achieve this, we realized we did not have the type values we wanted. We thought it was possible to breed for both type and genetic values and that you did not have to settle for just one.”
They didn’t settle and subsequently, their genetics have become popular around the globe. They have sent more than 80 Ayrshire bulls to AI. Palmyra Tristar Burdette was the Premier Sire at World Dairy Expo for seven years running from 2013-2019 before being bumped off his throne by Ruth’s full brother, Palmyra Berkely Reagan, who was the Premier Sire in 2021. On the female side, the farm has had 158 All-American Ayrshire nominations with 50 of those being named All-American. They have won the Premier Breeder banner at Expo 11 times, and have taken home nine Premier Exhibitor banners from the show. Ten times, they have won the prestigious French Trophy for the highest producing Ayrshire herd in the country. Ten Palmyra cows have been ranked #1 on the breed’s Elite Genetics cow list, and Palmyra has exported embryos to ten countries worldwide. It’s a catalog of achievements from a family that has been dedicated to bettering and promoting the Ayrshire breed, and they were recognized with the Ayrshire Master Breeder Award in 2011.
The dream of their father, Ralph Shank, Sr., to build a purebred Ayrshire herd had its roots in his 4-H days. “He and his brothers had limited funds and purchased many blemished and ‘behind the ring animals’ that did not sell. Our Ginger family traces back to an original purchase by my grandfather in the 1940s and was built from there,” notes Mary. That family has produced many show winners and Elite Genetics cows, including the Reserve All-American Senior 3-Year-Old in 2021, Palmyra Reagan R GiGi EX-91. The family has had seven direct generations of All-American nominations.
Over the decades, some purchased animals laid the foundation for prominent families at Palmyra. “In 1975, we made one of our best buys from the National Sale – Oak Ridge Bruis Bonnie who made anything “B” in the herd. She made tremendous females and males, and is the foundation dam of Burdette. Sycamore-Meade R.C. Lover EX-90 2E came from the Sycamore Meade Dispersal and made number one genetic females and number one genetic males, including Palmyra Lover’s Heligo. Covey Farms Reno Rosy EX-91 was purchased in 1998 and started the “R” line that made milk, type and genetic values. Some of our most well-known animals are from this family including Ruth, Ruthless, Rayna, and Reagan,” says Mary. All three families have made significant impact on the breed domestically and internationally.
The herd size has fluctuated over time and had grown as large as 210 milking cows, which included some Holsteins (added in the 1980s) and Jerseys (added about eight years ago). The much smaller Holstein herd has also been bred with both type and high genetic value in mind, resulting in 16 Palmyra-bred Holstein bulls entering AI over the years. With sons coming back to the farm either full- or part-time, adding cow numbers seemed to be the answer, but that has changed with some diversification and thoughts about a new business plan. In 2018, they sold over half the herd and decided to focus more on individual cow care. From there, they were about to jumpstart a flush program that had been put on the back burner, and also started to offer boarding services for other breeders.
The milking herd is housed in a freestall facility, but can go out to pasture every day. They had the first milking parlor in the area, built in 1952, and they are still using the original structure which now houses a double-7 parlor that has been modified many times. Ralph, Mary, and her son, Evan, handle most of the day-to-day chores, though the whole family is involved with the farm, with everyone being cross-trained to pitch in on each job around the farm. Mark Creek feeds in the mornings before he goes to work as a herdsman at the nearby Trans Ova facility. Evan, the Klussendorf-MacKenzie award winner in 2018, manages the show string, the boarded cattle, and reproductive program. He still travels extensively as a professional cattle fitter working shows and sales across the country, so they have some young people that help in the evenings and on weekends when he is on the road.
They own 300 acres but have a contract with a neighbor who provides all of the cropping and manure handling, then returns hay, straw and corn silage to the farm. That allows the family to keep their entire focus on cow care. They feed a TMR to everything over 4 months of age and use a variety of commodities in a corn silage, hay and straw base. The rolling herd average for the Ayrshires is 22,516M 4.0 895F 3.1 709P.
Another highly successful family venture has been the Palmyra Farm Cheese business begun in 2009. Michael Creek recognized the opportunity that was coming to direct market products to consumers, especially if a farm was located in the right area. “He pushed to start the business. Our customers are our neighbors just over the hill – we have plenty of local population that wants to buy a local product. We have some of our milk made into Cheddar cheese, as research told us that Ayrshire whole milk was especially suited to make that variety. We now make 10 different flavored Cheddars that we market direct or wholesale throughout the mid-Atlantic region and sell online also through our website. There have certainly been some big hurdles, but we have managed them and continue to grow. The pandemic caused us to modify and start offering custom cheese boards customers could pickup from their cars,” relates Mary.
Milk from the farm is shipped to an area cheesemaker, who makes the quantities of the different flavors they want. They didn’t have to invest upfront in processing facilities or equipment and that allowed them to keep focusing on cow care. Quality milk is the key to consistent, high-quality cheese, and they strive to keep somatic cell counts under 100,000 while pushing for higher components. Their unique Chesapeake Bay Cheddar, flavored with Maryland’s famous seafood seasoning, is very popular with their direct to consumer local market, while their Sharp Cheddar is in demand with the restaurants, breweries and eateries they supply through wholesale distributors.
Michael is a Director of Operations with Trans Ova, as well as the majority owner of Palmyra Farm Cheese. He helps to manage the marketing and brand of both the herd and the cheese business. He also, like his mother Mary, enjoys judging dairy cattle shows around the country. Mary Creek judged the International Ayrshire Show in 2015, and Michael took his spot in the center of the Madison ring in 2021.
In addition to judging, the family has dedicated countless hours of time to leadership roles in the breed organizations. Ralph Shank Jr. has been president and director of the Maryland Ayrshire Association, and along with his wife, chaired the 1998 National Ayrshire Convention. Mary Creek has served on the U.S. Ayrshire Breeder’s Association Board of Directors, and was the World Ayrshire Federation President from 2012 to 2016. She works tirelessly to promote US Ayrshire genetics around the world.
With the smaller milking herd and the renewed flush program comes the opportunity to sell genetics right from the top of their herd, and they have announced a May 27th, 2023 sale – Foundations of Palmyra & Springhill. The sale will be run in partnership with prominent Ohio Guernsey and Holsteins breeders, the Lang family of Springhill Farms, which will be the physical location of the sale. In the past, Palmyra has sent a few head to consignment sales and sold a few privately, but never hosted a sale.”We have never done anything like this before,” notes Mary. “It’s new territory for us. We’ve been planning it for two years, and have done a lot of flushing and matings in order to have top offerings.”
It’s another step along the path started by Ralph and Mary’s father and grandfather. Both Ralph and Mary credit their parents, Ralph Sr. and Patricia Shank, as guiding lights in their lives. “Obviously your parents have a huge influence, but our Dad had goals and he was driven. He had little to start with other than passion and hard work. They always told us that if you worked hard enough, you could achieve anything. So, we work and we work hard and our children work hard with their lives and to help us keep going. We talk a lot and ask a lot of questions to ourselves (Becky Payne from Ayrshire calls this our “parlor talk”). Our veterinarian, Dr. John Heizer, our many AI friends, our nutritionist, the breed association representatives, 4-H and FFA leaders, university advisors, and our huge group of industry friends are people we lean on frequently. No one gets anywhere alone and we have used a huge network of support to help us achieve everything,” praises Mary.
In 2020, Michael, Mark and Evan Creek were honored as the 2020 Young Ayrshire Breeders by the US Ayrshire Breeders Association. All three see a bright future for the breed, with the moderate size of the cows allowing them to fit into many different management structures. They feel the breed needs to work to increase the national herd average to high component milk production, avoid haplotypes, increase and promote genomic testing to improve its accuracy, and increase the percentage of the national herd that carries the A2A2 gene. Marketing the adaptive abilities of the breed to commercial dairymen, small dairies looking to enter direct-to-consumer markets, or youth who are interested in a new dairy project for 4-H and FFA is imperative to keep Ayrshires gaining in popularity and numbers.
Mary is proud of their Maryland family farm, but acknowledges that the dairy business in the mid-Atlantic is shrinking. “We have learned we need to change. Maryland loses 19% of its farms each year. If we want to continue to milk and breed cows, we have to look at different options all the time. Right now taking on boarders (the number of clients varies, but we have had as many as 16) has been a big asset, and Evan is a huge part of making this work for us. There are many people that love this industry but do not milk cows and need someone to do that for them. We try to work with each client to understand their goals and help them achieve them. There are different stresses when working with other peoples’ cattle but it is very rewarding to watch them enjoy success. There will always be a need for purebred genetics as seed stock. How can we keep ourselves relevant? Creativity is a key. Dad and Mom never shrank from a challenge so I guess we should not either!”
By Kathleen O’Keefe, Cowsmopolitan
Looking for the perfect holiday present? Why not send the gift of Palmyra Cheese? You can order your gift boxes directly through our SHOP!
Cow families have always remained at the heart of Ralph Shank Jr. and Mary Shank Creek’s successful breeding program. Along with Shank’s wife Terrie and Creek’s husband Mike, they own and operate Palmyra Farm in Hagerstown, Maryland, in addition to their children and grandchildren who are the fourth and fifth generations on the family farm.
The siblings’ dedication to the Ayrshire breed and its future has been nearly immeasurable. In honor of their hard work and success, they have been selected by the Klussendorf Association as this year’s recipients of the Robert “Whitey” McKown Master Breeder Award. This prestigious award honors exemplary breeders who have been successful at showing and judging dairy cattle. Winners embody qualities associated with the Klussendorf Award, including character, ability, endeavor, and sportsmanship. This award will be formally presented to Shank and Creek during the International Ayrshire Show on Wednesday, October 5 at World Dairy Expo.
The long list of Palmyra bulls placed into A.I. displays their dedication and strong breeding philosophy, totaling 81 Ayrshires and 16 Holsteins. Palmyra Tri-Star Burdette is a high production and type bull with over 6,500 daughters in 1,600 herds and has been a key player in the progress of the Ayrshire breed. To round out his accomplishments, Burdette was the Premier Sire at World Dairy Expo for seven consecutive years from 2013 to 2019 and has sired national champions in seven countries.
Excellent cows pair well with proven sires, which is why nearly 200 Palmyra cows have been listed on the Ayrshire Elite Cow Performance Index (CPI) list, including 42 in a single round. Additionally, 10 of their cows have ranked first. Palmyra Berkely P Ruth-ET (EX-94) is a former top CPI leader and a two-time Grand Champion at World Dairy Expo. She went on to become the Total Performance winner at Expo in 2018 and a three-time unanimous All-American. Her daughter was named Intermediate Champion and Reserve Grand Champion of the International Ayrshire Show at World Dairy Expo in 2021. Ruth’s full brother, Palmyra Berkely Reagan-ET, has been the most heavily sampled Ayrshire young sire in the U.S. with over 20,000 units of semen sold. He is following closely in Burdette’s footsteps, receiving his first Premier Sire banner in 2021.
Palmyra Farm’s emphasis on breeding for production is evident, having over 150 cows with lifetime production totals of 100,000 pounds of milk or more, at least 40 with over 150,000 pounds of milk, and five others with over 200,000 pounds of milk. Palmyra is a progressive Ayrshire herd, being the first to utilize embryo transfer in the country. Further, they have showcased their genetics internationally by exporting embryos to 10 foreign countries.
To match their success with breeding productive cows, this duo has also found success in the showring. Shank and Creek have been Premier Breeder 11 times, Premier Exhibitor nine times, and have shown Grand Champion cows three times at the International Ayrshire Show at World Dairy Expo. They have won Premier Breeder and Exhibitor banners numerous times at the All-American Dairy Show and Maryland State Fair. To date, they have earned 158 All-American Ayrshire nominations and achieved 49 All-American designations. Among these nominations are seven consecutive generations of Palmyra’s Ginger family. In 2011, they were recognized with the Ayrshire Master Breeder Award. Further, they have received multiple Ayrshire French production trophies and a Constructive Breeder Award.
As important as excellent breeding is to this family, they also have a passion for supporting their community, the dairy industry, breed organizations, and agriculture youth programs. Over the years, they have hosted 19 student interns from 10 universities. They strive to connect with the community by hosting many tours and visitors to their farm every year, along with many classification workshops and dairy judging practices. To add to their portfolio of endeavors, they launched Palmyra Farm Cheese in 2009, which produces unique Cheddar cheeses from their Ayrshire cows.
Shank and Creek have held several leadership roles and titles. Shank previously served the Maryland Ayrshire Association as a president and director. He was also chair of the National Ayrshire Youth Committee and chaired the 1998 National Ayrshire Convention along with his wife.
While Shank stays closer to the day-to-day aspects of the farm, Creek is a global ambassador for the Ayrshire breed. She has served on the U.S. Ayrshire Breeder’s Association Board of Directors, was the World Ayrshire Federation President from 2012 to 2016, and is a past president of National Dairy Shrine. She has judged shows locally and internationally, and in 2015, she judged the International Ayrshire Show at WDE. In 2012, she was recognized as World Dairy Expo’s “Dairy Woman of the Year”. To round out their success, they were presented the National Dairy Shrine’s Outstanding Breeders Award in 2019.
Shank and Creek are a humble team. They have forged their way to the top of elite Ayrshire genetics, and no job or task along the way has been too small or insignificant. No matter their accomplishments in the showring or on classification days, they never forget to support those around them and to ensure the whole breed is making progress. Their dedication to the Ayrshire breed and dairy industry is admirable and has now earned them and Palmyra Farm the title of the 2022 McKown Master Breeder Award winners.
Past winners of the Robert “Whitey” McKown Master Breeder Award include: Cutting Edge Brown Swiss, Copake, N.Y., 2021; Woodsmansee Holsteins, Preston, Conn., 2019; Ovaltop Holsteins, Richfield Springs, N.Y., 2018; Wendon Holsteins, Innisfail, Alberta, 2017; Ferme Jacobs Inc., Cap-Santé, Quebec, 2016; Walk-Era, Wisconsin Dells, Wis., 2015; Pond View Farm, Danville, Vt., 2014; Quality Holsteins, Vaughan, Ontario, 2013; Windsor Manor Farms, New Windsor, Md., 2012; Moondale, Monona, Iowa, 2011; Snider Homestead, New Enterprise, Pa., 2010; and Windy Knoll View, Mercersburg, Pa., 2009. No award was given in the pandemic year of 2020.
The Robert “Whitey” McKown Breeder Award was made possible by the family and friends of the 1997 Honorary Klussendorf honoree after his passing in 2009. McKown joined the Holstein World staff in 1956 and became widely respected as he traveled nationally and internationally, reporting on shows, sales, meetings, and other Holstein events. The 1987 National Dairy Shrine president also developed McKown Holsteins at Belleville, N.Y. He had great admiration for the farmer breeder.
The Klussendorf Memorial Association, considered by many as the Hall of Fame for dairy cattle exhibitors, began in 1937 in memory of Arthur B. Klussendorf, considered the outstanding dairy cattle showman of his time. Each year, the Klussendorf Association votes to add a new dairy cattle exhibitor to its rolls with lifetime membership for their cumulative works.
If you are lucky in this life you can live in moments of time where your dreams come true.
Ruth was special from the day she was born, big but not too big for a heifer, then Junior Campion at MD State Fair 8 months pregnant. She calved in October right after mom judged Expo full of potential, athletic, youthful, and not lacking for spunk.
At 2 years she showed just once but afterwards everyone knew her name. For the next 2 years that followed she did her job at home & in the ring and loved every minute of it. She was strong, smart and had personality, she loved her people, her feed bunk and pasture and being stalled with Dare Bear. She milked and bred back and held the title of #1 Genetic Merit Cow at the same time she reigned as Champion. She was small town famous all at the same time, with folks in Hagerstown that knew nothing at all about show cows checking Facebook to see how she performed.
She left us as strong and full of personality as the day she was born. There are those that have that something special that you only know when you see it and Ruth had it to spare. Though we are heart broken we know she is with Bruis Bonnie on top of the hill in green pastures watching over the farm and the family she loved.